How did it all begin?
Amy Stanbery, CDT
I grew up in a middle-class family in Belmont, Calif. My dad was a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army then became a county sheriff. My mom was a U.S. Postal Service mail carrier who worked her way up to become a national account representative by the time she retired after 30 years.
My dad came from a large, hard-working Italian family with six kids. They owned a bakery and he would get up early and work before school every day. He made sure my sister and I had that same work ethic. When I turned 18, he told me I had to start paying rent to stay in the same room in the same bed I grew up in. I was irritated the price just went up on my free bedroom, but looking back I think it was one of the best things he did because it gave me the drive to succeed.
Softball was my game growing up. I played third base because I liked being close to the action. It was a big part of my life. I played on a traveling team into my 20s, batted cleanup and led the league in homeruns. But my real claim to fame came when I hit for the cycle, which means I hit a single, double, triple and homerun in the same game. That’s something only about five major league baseball players can even pull off each season.
But the best thing about softball was that it taught me the value of being part of a team with the comradery of working together, being held accountable and trying to lift others up when they’re down.
How did you find your way into medicine and healthcare?
My grandmother was a medical transcriptionist who lived across the street when I was a kid. I loved sitting with her while she worked because she would play cassette tapes of the doctors’ dictation. They talked about illnesses, surgeries, treatments and it fascinated me.
That led to my first job in the file room of a hospital. But I was willing to do any type of work, so they’d move me around from department to department. I was eventually asked by the director of the pathology lab to assist with autopsies. I was trained by the diener of the hospital. I loved the job and it sparked my interest in becoming a nurse.
I became an EMT instead. But here’s the thing— you don’t know if you’ll have motion sickness working in the back of an ambulance until you’re working in the back of an ambulance. Unfortunately, I suffered from terrible motion sickness and had to give up that career rather quickly.
Well, as fate would have it, the hospital asked me to get my radiology license to help launch their new osteoporosis, bone density and body composition center. Even though it wasn’t what I had originally set out to do, I absolutely loved it.
And I quickly realized how important the work was. Acquisition of bone mass stops at age 30, for example, and having weak bones is completely asymptomatic. Yet it can devastate your quality of life as bones fracture. And adequate muscle mass and low body fat is just as critical to well-being. But up to that point, there was no way to get precise data on bone density or the percentage of body fat versus muscle mass in the body. Your total body weight is only half the story and largely irrelevant.
So, I was one of the early proponents of using dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) scans to determine not only bone density but body composition. Word began to spread and soon health experts like Tim Ferris, who wrote The 4-Hour Body, began getting DXA scans. In fact, he gave me a nice shout-out in his book. A lot of the Silicon Valley executives also started coming in and most were surprised to learn what was going on inside their bodies.
How'd you make your way to DexaFit?
Since I was one of the few people in the country using DXA scans to determine body composition, General Electric, which manufactures the scanners, would send inquiries from their potential customers my way. I got a call one day from Adam Kadela, who was interested in bringing DXA technology to the public outside of a hospital setting.
I enjoyed our conversation and filed Adam’s name away in my head. I called him three years later to see how the company was doing. I discovered we shared a common vision about the technology and a common mission to empower people to take control of their health. So, we joined forces and I opened a DexaFit in San Francisco, the first center in California and the third in the country.
What’s your vision for the future?
The “quantified self” movement of the last several years, which includes Fitbits and other wearable health and fitness trackers, assumes that self-knowledge leads to self-improvement. But the movement has not led to overall health improvements among Americans.
There’s a huge gap between tracking and recording information and changing behavior. Most people don’t have any idea how to use the information or what it even means in most cases. So, a core part of our service philosophy at DexaFit is to not only provide life-changing data to clients but to actually help them use the data to change their life.
We’re going 10 steps farther than any wearable and will eventually be able to use our client data in aggregate to establish mechanisms for making health assumptions across the general population. The current health calculators such as BMI and A/G ratio are leaving a lot people out of the equation. For example, we know excess belly fat can lead to diabetes, but what percentage of belly fat is too much? No one knows, but we will eventually be able to answer that question and more. So, our vision is to use the information we’re collecting one by one to eventually help create a healthier population overall.
Why are you here?
I see an opportunity to scale unprecedented good health and happiness across America and, eventually, the world. The future is in greater self-knowledge and care. We can’t put our well-being entirely in the hands of our healthcare system any longer.
I’ve been lucky to work with nearly 80,000 clients over the last 25 years. I still schedule face-to-face client hours every week because nothing gives me a greater sense of satisfaction and meaning than seeing the epiphany in a client’s face after they see their results.
I worked with a client the other day who has a degree from MIT and PhD from Berkeley. He told me he learned more about his body and health in 15 minutes from his scan and our conversation than he has from all his doctor visits over the years combined. His results completely blindsided him, but now he has the power to act to improve his health and quality of life. That’s what makes our work so important and so much fun.